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By: Sister Vannessa, Contributor
United States of America
"As told by Sister Vannessa herself"
Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of forgiveness. Discovering the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helped me realize that everyone deserves forgiveness, no matter what the person may have done. Jesus faced the ultimate form of betrayal from His Father’s children, yet he chose to love and forgive them for their sins. I now understand that if Jesus Christ can forgive and atone for man’s transgressions, then I can forgive the man who raped me.
Years before I met with the missionaries, I was involved in an abusive relationship. Like many people who are in an unhealthy partnership, I was completely oblivious to the severity of the abuse when it was actually happening. I found that the only way I could cope with my relationship with this man was by letting my past demons explode. Behind closed doors, I was raped by the man who said he loved me, and when it was over, I would punish myself by skipping meals.
I was secretly aware of my eating disorder for years, but the illness eventually consumed my entire life after the first time I was raped. I remember stepping on the scale, seeing that I’d lost three pounds, and feeling proud of myself for finally doing something that was “good enough.”
Being “enough” was all I wanted to be, especially when it came to my relationship with this man. I would later learn that my insecurities were not the problem, they were his leverage. After this man would rape me, he would always acknowledge what he’d done and apologize for it. It’s amazing how the words “I’m sorry,” caused me to forget the most horrific mistakes. Every single time he said the words those two words, I would completely forget the rape ever took place, even though it would happen again and again.
"Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration perpetrated against a person without that person's consent." Rape is a serious crime that often goes unreported, and believe it or not, the crime doesn't always involve a stranger wearing a ski mask in a dark alley. In fact, majority of the rapes reported are committed by somebody that the victim knows. Whether it's a significant other, a cousin, or an authority figure. If the victim is close to their rapist, it can often take years, if not a lifetime, for them to escape.
With a lot of professional support and protection, I eventually broke free from the abuse from the boyfriend, but it took much longer to break free from the abuse I was inflicting upon myself. I wanted to disappear. I didn't recognize myself anymore. The man told me I was worth nothing, and even though I had been telling myself that for years, hearing it from somebody who said they loved me made it feel more true. Was I worthy of love? Was I worthy of happiness? At the time, I didn’t think so. I never thought I would ever feel true happiness, but I was wrong. After years of uncertainty, I finally found peace. Not in a relationship with a man, or in the approval of a mirror, but in the restored gospel. When I discovered the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my life completely changed. Obviously, it didn’t change overnight. I still had to go to a treatment center to improve my eating habits, and cried many tears because of my past, but instead of making myself numb to emotions, I was finally allowing myself to feel. I was finding the puzzle pieces that had been missing, and including them into my life. Because of the Book of Mormon and restored gospel, my life went from broken and unorganized, to imperfectly beautiful. Discovering the restored gospel helped me see that I would never have to do hard things alone. Eight months after my baptism, I received a phone call asking to do an interview with a detective, and I immediately knew what it was about. When I got to the interview, the detective turned on his tape recorder, and informed me that my ex-boyfriend was charged with raping another female. The victim stated that the defendant mentioned my name before he proceeded to commit the alleged crime. After explaining my story to the detective, I asked him if it would help this man receive the proper consequences if I pressed charges as well. When he said it wouldn’t hurt, I thought, “Do I really want to do this?” As Elder Duncan explained in conference, "As human beings we live in a fallen world, sometimes full of darkness and confusion" (Elder Kevin R. Duncan, The Healing Anointment of Forgiveness, April 2016). I had just joined the LDS church, was getting married, and doing well in recovery. Did I really want to open the door to this painful part of my past?
After further discussion with the detective and my parents, I decided that I should take action because my life had positively changed so much. The gospel had changed and made me stronger, so I decided to press charges against this man from my past. Now, just because the Church granted me the strength that I didn’t have years before, does not mean that it was an easy road. I remember calling my fiancé (at the time) in the middle of the night because of a nightmare. I would call my therapist in a panic because of a haunting memory that would not leave my mind. Thankfully, with the help of my family, bishop, husband, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ, I made it through this difficult time of pressing charges. I wasn’t the scared girl I was years before the relationship even took place. I was converted. I was changed. I now knew that, “He, [God], could heal the wounded soul.” Pressing charges brought up a lot of hard feelings, but I knew that I was doing the right thing, not only for other women, but for the defendant.
I realized that in order for the man to have the opportunity to change and improve, he needed to be stopped. God gave us agency, and because of that gift, He allows earthly consequences to happen for unacceptable sin. During the year that it took for a final conclusion to be made about the case, my rapist made bail, which only caused my worries to intensify. I had moments of fear and weakness, but I trusted that God would cause for the situation to work out the way it was supposed to. It would just take some time.
Just like it took time for the case to close, it took the time for me to learn to forgive. It took time for me to learn that just because I chose to forgive my rapist, does not mean that he could avoid punishment and justice would not be served. I later learned that choosing forgiveness was not necessarily setting my rapist free from consequence, but it was setting me free from unnecessary setbacks in my life. When it comes to forgiveness, Elder Kevin R. Duncan counsels, “try to see [the person who needs forgiveness] as God does.” For me, one of the ultimate forms of forgiveness was to commit to a life of not harming myself because of what happened to me. Instead, I decided to use my past experiences to help somebody else. I decided to have hope that this person would someday live a life that wasn’t surrounded by sin. I decided to pray that the man would change his habits and lifestyle in God's own way and timing.
The Book of Mormon was what triggered me to change my lifestyle. Without it, I wouldn’t have had the strength to recover from my addictions or pursue through this legal matter. Fortunately, the defendant was sentenced to the minimum of ten years in prison, and a lifetime of being a registered sex offender. The day I found out about the sentencing, I felt prompted to send the Book of Mormon to the sentenced man. Even though I know there are missionaries who visit prisons, I decided to do it anyway. Why should I wait and hope that other people follow through with a prompting that I had? I don’t know what the man will do with the scripture, or if he will even receive it at all. All I could do is follow through with the prompting. When I had that prompting to send the man the Book of Mormon, I knew that I had forgiven him. Why? I knew because instead of wishing something bad would happen to him in prison, I wanted to send him the one thing that saved my life.
Forgiveness is not always an easy thing to do, but it is necessary in order to be happy. Many victims of abuse struggle with self-esteem, addiction, and trauma for the rest of their lives. I am fortunate enough to be able to say otherwise. I still have hard days, but I’ve found happiness and healing in the restored gospel. Without my Redeemer, I wouldn’t have found the strength to seek justice. Without my God, I probably would have never forgiven my rapist. Because of the LDS Church, I believe that “each of us should not be defined by the worst thing we’ve ever done” (Kevin R. Duncan, April 2016).
"Forgiveness is a glorious, healing principle. We do not need to be a victim twice. We can forgive."
If you've been raped by a stranger or someone you know, let me tell you this: it does not matter if you've been conscientiously intimate with the person before. It does not matter if it was violent or not. It doesn't matter if you were drunk, or if you were wearing a short skirt. No means no. It is not and never will be your fault.
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